The 4th #CitizenScience #ThinkTank wrapped up in Wellington and brought together #CitSci movers and shakers from Sustainable Coastlines (Oliver Vetter), SC/Guardians of the Kāpiti Marine Reserve (Ben Knight), Victoria University Wellington (Markus Luszak-Roesch) and the University of Canterbury (Shane Orchard). Sheryl Miller (Greater Wellington) couldn’t attend, so a brief catchup was scheduled for the day prior to gain insights into #CitSci activities the council is currently involved with.
A main goal of the Think Tank is networking and sharing information on #CitSci initiatives underway/ planned around NZ. This meeting’s venue – the BizDojo – was entirely appropriate, given their aim of ‘creating communities of talented, interesting and clever humans… following their passions’. That sums up the social side of the Think Tank nicely. An open membership means discussions in the Think Tank remains fresh, but having a core group ensures that the Think Tank delivers too.
Formalising: A Citizen Science Association for Aotearoa/NZ
In the next few months, an Incorporated Society will be formed to grow #CitSci in a more cohesive, strategic way throughout NZ. This will place NZ in line with other #CitSci Associations in Australia, Europe and the US. The Think Tank will work alongside the new Association while progressing actions developed at #CitSciNZ2018 (last year’s symposium at Te Papa). For now, this means tidying up the draft White Paper (a succinct overview of #CitSci principles, activities and opportunities) and developing an online portal to link an increasing range of #CitSci initiatives around the country. Watch this space!
A face to face meeting is a great way to update each other on what’s happening – it’s dynamic as collaborative projects grow larger and seek more complex (and meaningful) outcomes. In NZ, there’s a bias toward environmental projects, given the focus on community-led conservation. Bird monitoring has a lengthy history here too.
Volunteer Freshwater Monitoring
Work has been underway since the development of the first Stream Health Monitoring sadn Assessment Kit (SHMAK) was produced by the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) in the early 2000s (Kilroy et al., 2002). Along with an overhaul of the kit, there’s now a database for groups’ results. According to Think Tank participant Sheryl Miller (Greater Wellington Regional Council), the Whaitua process has sparked Wairarapa farmers’ interest in monitoring their water quality. Whaitua committees are charged with developing a plan that describes ‘ways in which the people from that catchment want to manage their water’. Bad puns aside, volunteer freshwater quality monitoring has become mainstream. Community-friendly tools are readily available, while land managers’ capacity to carry out more monitoring on smaller systems limited. The new website www.nzwatercitizens.co.nz should be up and running soon and will include SHMAK training videos.
Quantifying litter: how much? where from?
With waterways being conduits for pollution, it was only a matter of time before interested parties collaborated, firstly to look at the makeup of litter along our coastline, to tracking where it comes from. Sustainable Coastlines has been leading the charge for beach clean-ups, and now has upped the game. Using United Nations Environment Programme methodology, trained citizen scientists will collect litter data from 108 coastal sites around NZ. A curriculum-aligned behaviour change programme will run alongside the monitoring to cut back on single-plastic use and reduce litter. NIWA’s Amanda Valois is taking a step back and working with community groups to investigate where plastic enters waterways, and what happens to it instream (i.e. how it breaks down) before it ends up on beaches.
Planting native species: measuring the success of establishment
Revegetation with native species is one of the top 3 activities community groups carry out, along with animal pest/weed control and education/advocacy. Trees for Survival have developed a ‘Rapid Assessment Method’ to quantify plant establishment in newly revegetated areas. Sustainable Coastlines is looking at something similar for their many revegetation riparian planting initiatives over the years. NIWA have developed an online riparian database to establish baselines for sites with questions including the width, length and density of planting, types of plants used, time since planting and the location relative to healthy streams. Over time this will help determine ‘why some riparian restoration projects lead to rapid ecological recovery and others seem less effective’. However, apps to facilitate data entry for habitat improvement works and connect groups still remain a big gap in NZ.
Citizen Science and Wellbeing
Think Tank participant Markus Luszak-Roesch (Victoria University, Wellington) is currently involved in a project exploring the impact on primary students’ learning and engagement with online citizen science projects in classrooms. He raised the point that little is known about the link between #CitSci and wellbeing. It’s a good time to consider this given the current government’s strong wellbeing focus, but quantifying improvements are challenging and require longitudinal studies to measure changes.
Citizen science could provide the balance to counter global despair and feelings of hopelessness. It could also help create more resilient, resourceful people, better equipped to face disasters such as the frequent super-storms battering various nations, or recent devastating quakes, even war
Excerpt from Tess Brosnan’s Masters’ Thesis (University of Otago)
Biggs, B. J. F., Kilroy, C., Mulcock, C. M., & Scarsbrook, M. R. (2002).New Zealand stream health monitoring and assessment kit. Stream monitoring manual. Version 2. Christchurch, New Zealand: NIWA.
Brosnan, T. (2015). Finding Hope on a Planet in Crisis: Combining Citizen Science and Tourism (Thesis, Master of Science Communication). University of Otago. Available: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/6051
Phillips, T. B., Ballard, H. L., Lewenstein, B. V., & Bonney, R. (2019). Engagement in science through citizen science: Moving beyond data collection. Science Education.